Behind the Scenes: UH Hilo’s Performing Artists

News Writer and Photographer Gina Selig

Dance is a way to view effortless movement, graceful steps, and powerful emotions - all without the need for a word to be spoken. Dancers have the capability of telling a story using pure emotional power, and as a result are able to captivate an entire audience. One such event where this phenomenon took place was the Dance Collective. Held at UH Hilo’s Performing Arts Center on September 16, the collective featured all types of dance - from ballet and tap to hip-hop - in an effort to showcase the many talents of dancers at the University.

Kiana Kamala, one of the performers at the Dance Collective, is a student and choreographer at UH Hilo. Kamala knows that countless hours must be put in before a performance. “Practice hours are added to our regular practice hours on Saturdays and Sundays,” Kamala said. “So, about eight hours. Though that's only counting group practices. It also depends too because we practice on our own time as well. We do our regular warm-up song and stretching exercises. Then, we usually go into a rehearsal. We mark it once to get a feel of the stage we're going to be on and then go full out on the following rehearsal practices.”

As a choreographer, Kamala says, “Really, I feel like choreographers are basically just teachers. One can't work without the other. Choreographers need the dancers and dancers need their choreographers. I think it's also a shared work. As a dancer and choreographer, you just have to put your all and your passion into any dance to be very successful.”

Inspiration for dance can come in several forms. A group that has inspired many at UH Hilo is aptly named “Inspiring New Talent” (INT). The club meets on weekends from 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the Student Life Center; they welcome anyone interested in dance.

“I'm in the INT dance club, which I guess is part of the dance program here,” Kamala said. “I feel like it has made a great impact on me and the other choreographers have taught me to push myself and they've made me feel comfortable. They are like family to me. I usually get my inspiration from watching other choreographers in person, taking a class of theirs, or even watching videos on YouTube.”

Dancers also note how their work provides a great way to get into shape, especially when one is using muscles that wouldn’t be given attention otherwise. “Dance I feel is so universal, well, just like any other type of art form,” Kamala said. “For me, I've loved dance since I was a little kid… Everyone danced at least once in their lifetime. If you don't dance, I encourage you to dance once a day or even once a week. It's good cardio and doesn't even feel like you're doing anything. Plus, it makes you feel good inside.”

However, if you have no desire to dance, why should you watch it? “They should watch dance because it's such a unique form of art and show an arrange of emotions. I feel like no matter what dance performance you watch, you'll feel inspired after and just feel super happy on the inside,” Kamala said.

Dance collective

Mary Kimura is another student at UH Hilo who, like Kamala, found inspiration from simply watching other people dance. “One day at school I saw people doing it and I just felt this pull to try,” Kimura said. “I also really love dance movies like Center Stage and the Step Up saga.” Kimura also cited her instructors at UH Hilo as sources of inspiration, including Anne “Annie” Bunker, Kristi “Kea” Kapahua, and Celeste Staton. “My teachers are all… I wouldn’t say old,” Kimura said. “But they all have kids, and the amount of dance and teaching experience is incredible. Plus, some of our professors can still out dance some of us students. I literally look at them and say I would sacrifice my twenty-year-old body for theirs. And my fellow dancers are so amazing. You would never know but majority of us will dance through injuries, sickness, and tiredness but never show it. So everyone that has ever taught or danced with me I consider a dance role model.”

Kimura aims to achieve many goals through dance. Not only does she hope to inspire others, but also to keep learning. “Dance is so amazing, I feel like it can really help people physically and mentally,” Kimura said. “It is so much fun and is good for you. My favorite way to do exercise for sure. I want to learn and grow as a dancer as much as I can. There are so many talented people that inspire me to keep pushing and get better. Some immediate goals would be to perform as best as I can in performances coming up this school year, land a double turn, and get more flexible.”

For dancers, the emotion is one of the most remarkable things to witness in a performance, and different dancers give off different emotions. As for what emotion Kimura feels when she dances, “I would say happiness.” Nevertheless, Kimura noted that “sometimes choreographers have specific emotions they want you to portray through the dance so it varies. I was in a piece for one show where it was about losing a loved one and I was tearing up the whole time. So it depends on the choreography.”

Dance collective

For casual observers of the arts, it’s easy to think that stage fright lessens with experience. However, for Kimura, the thrill of performing never gets old. “I feel an adrenaline rush. Someone asked a couple of dancers and I if we still get nervous before a performance and someone said, ‘nah, I am used to it.’ But I said yes, I get nervous even though I have performed like over twenty times. The feeling when you see all your fellow dancers and yourself step onto the stage and see the audience for the first time, then trusting your body to remember the movements to the music is one of the craziest feelings in the world. I love the pure joy and happiness it brings me. I cannot stress that enough dance is happiness.”

Kimura’s favorite part about dance is “the familial sense that comes with it. I have never done a solo or been in a performance where it was just me. Every time I have danced it has been with at least one other person, but majority of the time a group. And after going through crazy rehearsals, being tired, looking really sweaty and gross, there is a bond and a sense of family that always happens. I feel like I repeat myself a lot but seriously, dancing just makes me so happy.”

The next major dance event at UH Hilo is the preview of Great Leaps, which will be held Friday, Dec. 2, at 7:30 p.m at the Performing Arts Center. The concert will be Saturday, Dec. 3, at the same time and venue as the preview.

Full disclosure: the author is participating in this semester’s Great Leaps Dance Concert.